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Independents' Day

GPs hit with breach of contract notices after NHS England checks up on practices closing early over Christmas

NHS England has issued breach of contract notices to 12 GP practices in London for closing early on Christmas Eve and is preparing more notices for those who were closed on New Year’s Eve, Pulse has learnt.

NHS England’s local area team in London said that staff rang round 238 GP practices in the capital after 3.30pm on Christmas Eve to check they remained open. As a result of the calls, NHS England found that 12 practices had transferred calls to an alternative provider and has subsequently issued them with a breach of contract notice.

It repeated the same exercise on New Year’s Eve and told Pulse that further breach notices ‘have been or are in the process of being issued’.

Londonwide LMCs said it had initially reached an agreement with local managers to allow GPs to close early on Christmas Eve but that this offer was withdrawn by NHS England in London after national primary care chief Dr David Geddes sent a strongly-worded letter informing practices across the country that remaining open during core hours would be ‘non-negotiable’.

A spokesperson for NHS England (London) told Pulse today: ‘From 15.30 on Christmas Eve we called 238 practices in London. 12 practices were found to be closed and were issued with a breach of contract notice before New Year’s Eve.

‘On New Year’s Eve we repeated the process and further breach notices have been or are in the process of being issued.

‘We undertook this exercise as we wanted to ensure that patients in London had access to the primary care services they are entitled to and that GP practices had signed up to deliver.’

At the time of writing, NHS England was unable to confirm whether this exercise had been repeated in other areas of the country.

But in a statement, Londonwide LMCs said they were clear that the practices had not breached their contract by transferring calls to another provider and it would be supporting practices if they wanted to challenge the notices issued to them from NHS England.

The statement said: ‘The GMS contract is non-specific on hours of opening on Christmas Eve and requires only “reasonable access to services”. It is the firm opinion of Londonwide LMCs, the GPC and BMA Law that the GMS contract does not require that practices are physically open during all of core hours. This was made clear in guidance issued by the GPC and Londonwide LMCs.

‘Last year one of the PCT clusters objected to this but LMC negotiated a reasonable response. A similar compromise was negotiated with NHS England (London) early in December but following a letter from Dr David Geddes this agreement was withdrawn and practices were told they were expected to remain open until 6.30pm Christmas Eve.’

‘Londonwide LMCs are contacting affected practices and offering support and guidance if they wish to dispute the breach notices issued by NHS England (London) and we are liaising with the GPC to ensure their resources are adequately mobilised. Because this is a national issue, Londonwide LMCs will be working with other LMC leads across England.’

‘It is Londonwide LMCs’ view that NHS England (London) have wasted valuable resources in contacting so many practices and [we] view their action as mean-spirited and vindictive with no benefit to patient services.’

Before Christmas Pulse revealed many GPs were planning to defy NHS England’s guidance on early closure over the holiday, supported by guidance from the GPC and LMCs.

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Readers' comments (44)

  • NHSE shut up shop an hour early on both Christmas Eve and New Year''s Eve. I wonder why given these are normal working days, according to them. I did not opt out of 24 hour care and therefore could shut early. Even so, I hung around until 5.30pm with no customers from 2 onwards. The government can change the contract unilaterally - that was in the 2004 contract which I refused to sign because of this clause - but was then forced to sign or face closure on 01.04.04.

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  • Not a farce at all, but a carefully orchestrated campaign of GP villification. GP's are now the whipping boys for all that isnt working in the NHS. Read the Telegraph if in doubt, especially the comments in the discussion forums, where GPs are (amongs other attributes): Overpaid, incompetent, dishonest, work shy, pig ignorant, etc etc. FGS wake up and smell the coffee..... the profession (GP mainly) is facing an unprecedented diatribe of abuse, scapegoats for all that is wrong in the NHS.

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  • Dr Mustapha Tahir

    This topic generated so much comments. Yet, more than 75% are made anonymously. Why are so many GPs afraid of contributing to debate, as important as this, openly? Any wonder whistleblowing is very rare in General Practice?

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  • So dr Geddes, where were you on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve?

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  • David - What "more work" was being "soaked up"
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    I suspect he was referred to the ongoing massive shift of unfunded work from secondary into primary care.
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    As a consultant that worked (and yes I do mean worked) on Christmas Day and New Years Eve (until 1in the morning) I can assure you that there is no shortage of work in hospitals either. There is no doubt that the amount of clinical work and demand is growing at a rapid rate.

    As for government agencies living up to their own standards I remember trying to speak to someone at Monitor before Christmas last year at 3pm to be told by their switchboard they'd all had the afternoon off for a pi$$ up Christmas Party. From the coal face of a hard pressed (and alcohol free) hospital this struck me as taking the Michael at least!

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  • Mike Henley - are you limited to 48 per week as per EWTD? We are not. I routinely work a 60-70 hour week and this is not counting doing my own patient palliative care for nothing out of hours. I also tried to contact surgical secretarial staff at my local hospital at 2.16pm Christmas Eve to find they had all fecked off early. I agree entirely that our hospital colleagues work very hard in the face of ever increasing demands but I do believe that GPs work bloody hard at way over the standard 48 hour week most NHS staff face (35 hours per week if a nurse). It is not a competition - but is very demoralising when GPs are blamed unfairly for everything. How about politicians who stoke up unreasonable demand where there is not the workforce to manage this?

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  • Time to go private?

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  • We were open until 6.30 xmas eve and new years eve as usual and the only pts we saw were from a local dentist who apparently was closed for dental treatment from 16th Dec until 3rd Jan, if pts were in pain they would provide scripts at 10am every morning but could offer no actual treatment!....maybe we should'nt be the only ones under such intense scrutiny....

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  • Doi I'm a scottish GP but this does seem to make mockery of " Independant Status"
    We seem to independently agree to jump as high as HMG wants

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  • We have in previous years arranged for the ooh service to take over on Xmas & New Years eve so that we could close at 4pm. threatened with a snotty letter this year we decided that we had neither the time, money or enthusiasm to fight a breach of contract notice with NHS England (with LMC backing or not). We stayed open until 6pm on both days and over the full period from 4pm we had one person in the surgery and 2 phone calls. Complete waste of time and energy. I would like to know what the difference is if a practice closes for half day training every week (some do) as opposed to closing early at Xmas once a year? If there is a difference then I can see that we will be arranging our "team building" sessions for the afternoons of 24th & 31st Dec 2014!

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